The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Obstacle to dam removal remains
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
One obstacle remains in the bid to get the Monumental Mills dam removed from the Hazel River.
That obstacle—a king’s grant claim by one landowner—is the same one that has frustrated boaters, swimmers and fishermen for almost a decade.
Monday night, Louise Finger, a stream restoration biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, gave about 40 Monumental Mills area residents a progress report on the status of the dam removal project.
Finger said that funding was in place and that three key permits had already been obtained. Only a decision on who owns the river bottom—at least the southern half of it—needs to be established.
Jean Scott, who owns the dam itself, has already signed a contract to have the last barrier between the headwaters of the Hazel (near Sperryville in Rappahannock County) and the Chesapeake Bay removed.
Ben Grace, however, who owns the land on the opposite bank, where Culpeper County’s first electric plant once stood, has petitioned the Virginia attorney general’s office asserting that he owns the stream bed by virtue of a king’s grant and asking that the project be halted, Finger said.
Now someone—either the attorney general or the courts—will have to decide whether Grace or the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which theoretically owns all stream beds in the state, has control of the Hazel River’s bottom.
But Finger is optimistic that the project, which will open 18.6 miles of river to fish and boaters, will proceed on schedule.
“This makes things more complicated, but if Mrs. Scott is the owner [of the structure], we could figure a way to get that dam out of there,” she told the crowd.
Finger said that the removal process could begin as early as Oct. 1, a date that doesn’t hinge on legal action but rather the breeding cycle of a freshwater mussel called the green floater.
These shellfish, a favorite meal of raccoons, inhabit the Hazel between Aug. 15 and Oct. 1 and removal and restoration projects are prohibited by law from taking place during this period.
High water from fall rains could then push the project back to early next year, Finger, who works out of Verona, said.
Once the dam and sediment above it are removed, the river bank on Scott’s side, the outside bend where erosion naturally occurs, would be sloped and new vegetation introduced. Even if the dam is removed in October, that restoration process would not get under way until next year, Finger said.
Finger estimated the dam removal costs at $70,000, with another $30,000 to $70,000 needed to restore the riverbank.
The DGIF would then monitor the river yearly to make sure “we achieved stability.”
Scott will not be allowed to disturb the area for 10 years.
“By whatever process, I believe we can get that dam out,” Finger said.
Finger said the permits are good for five years but funding could be limited to two years.
However, she was optimistic that the money would be there when needed.
“My agency is committed to providing funding [for this project],” she said.